“Call a nurse!” My daughter’s words interrupted our laughter. Up until that moment the four of us--Greg and I, plus April’s husband, Rick, had been picnicking in the oncology’s chemo room while April received her eighth dose of cancer-fighting drugs.
Rick and Greg quickly pulled back their chairs from our huddled circle to make way for the nurse. After one look at April’s face, now a bright red and dripping with sweat, the nurse sprang into action. I scooted my stool out of the way to make room for the cancer team, but by stretching out my hand I could still touch my daughter. “Oh, God, help!” I silently cried.
While April’s blood pressure plummeted to 60/40; mine was rising like a fast elevator. Fear tightened its grip as I wrestled in prayer with panic. My free hand reached for Greg’s, who stood at the edge of the emergency. I watched, willing myself to stay steady. My daughter needed the support of an adult mother, not of a wrinkled teenage drama queen.
April had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon and liver cancer this past summer, but somehow continued to live like she always had, full of courage and can-do. Her cheerfulness had calmed me. Surely she would beat this dread disease. Surely she would be one of the six out of every hundred who still stood at the end of five years. I had casually assumed, like the spectators at the Battle of Bull Run, our picnic in the oncology lab would go smoothly, just like her first seven chemo sessions.
But now, my optimistic hope was tempered by April’s adverse reaction to the best drug for her fight. Unwelcomed reality could no longer be shoved away by the comfort of denial. I was forced to face facts: Unless God miraculously healed her, my precious daughter would likely die. I trembled, Would her death leave a hole in my heart too deep to heal?
Finally, after 30 long minutes, the emergency passed. Blood pressures and adrenaline levels returned to normal. The four of us resumed our pre-crisis huddle and sighed aloud, like people whose skidding car had stopped just short of a cliff’s edge. After grateful prayers and extra-long hugs goodbye, Greg and I left, thankful; today’s date would not be carved in granite. But my relief was clouded by the lengthening shadow of death.
My mind searched scripture for solace. Strange comfort, rather than a soothing psalm surfaced: “...the day of death [is better] than the day of one's birth.” (Eccl. 7:1b) What?! Surely God didn’t agree with Ecclesiastes’ pessimistic preacher. Momentarily tempted to reject the verse, I decided to ponder the possibility of hidden gold in the bleak passage. How could the day my daughter dies be better than the happy day she was born? I found the answer in the verse’s context:
“Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart.” (Eccl. 7:2) We are all terminal--everyone. I hope my four other children wait their turn and don’t crowd in front of their momma, but they will also die, as will all of my fourteen grandkids. My new husband Greg, a gift from God after six plus years of widowhood, will someday leave this life, possibly before me.
“Stop! You’re depressing me! I know I’m going to die, but I don’t want to think about it or talk about it!” Our culture denies death and is quick to dismiss discussing our inevitable departure. We prefer to powder and perfume it, rather than “...take it to heart.” What could be the value of thinking about our funerals instead of focusing on our next feast?
Knowing we have a limited number of days will help us spend them well. Remember the parable of the talents? (Matt. 25:14-30) How we invest our talents now affects our rewards later. Death is not the end, but the Doorway into Heaven for the Jesus-follower. Accepting the reality of our short time this side of eternity will motivate us to redeem the time--in the same way knowing company is coming to your house for dinner focuses your energy.
“Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better.” (Eccl. 7:3) It’s natural for us to avoid pain; but Peter contradicts our shunning of less-than-pleasant stimuli, calling us to embrace undeserved difficulties: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2)
Facing life’s challenges with a calm confidence, rather than with teeth- gritting groans, glorifies God. The proper attitude toward pain promotes our growth. “...be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble. You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested. But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Suffering well produces sweet fruit in our lives. “But God shows undeserved kindness to everyone. That's why he appointed Christ Jesus to choose you to share in his eternal glory. You will suffer for a while, but God will make you complete, steady, strong, and firm.” (1 Peter 5:10) Grace is free, but growing in it depends on trusting God through trials.
I hope continually for my daughter’s healing, but whatever the outcome of her battle, suffering is seasoning me. I still love a party, but I realize good times are temporary. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccl. 7:4)
I’m thankful for every day my daughter lives. But, whatever the outcome. for all who embrace the cross, the grave is only a Gateway into the glorious, eternal presence of God.